Some people don’t feel clean without a long hot shower. But is a daily shower really necessary—or even healthy?
“I think showering is mostly for aesthetic reasons,” says Dr. Elaine Larson, an infectious disease expert and associate dean for research at Columbia University School of Nursing.
“People think they’re showering for hygiene or to be cleaner, but bacteriologically, that’s not the case.”
A hot daily shower can damage your skin, warns Associate Professor Stephen Shumack, President of the Australasian College of Dermatologists.
“Over-washing causes ‘defatting’ of the skin – getting rid of the natural body oils we produce to protect the skin cells. This can cause actual damage making them more permeable to bacteria or viruses, precipitating itchy skin, dryness, flakiness and worsening conditions like eczema.”
It’s a similar concept to the damage to the hair shaft that occurs in split ends – also a result of over-washing or bleaching, he explains.
The temperature of the water and over-lathering is the main problem. Being in the shower too long also isn’t good.
Research has shown the antibacterial soaps and cleaning products many people use in their homes aren’t any better than plain old soap at lowering the risk for infectious diseases.
And when it comes to showering, all that scrubbing and exfoliating doesn’t amount to much.
“Bathing will remove odor if you’re stinky or have been to the gym,” Dr. Larson says.
But in terms of protecting you from illness, washing your hands regularly is probably adequate.
Too much all-over bathing may even raise your risk for some health issues!
Dry, cracked skin opens up gaps for infection-causing germs to slip through. That means frequent bathing when your skin is already dry—and especially as you age, when your skin becomes thinner and less hydrated—may increase the odds of coming down with something, Larson says.
Other experts agree. “I think most people over-bathe,” says Dr. C. Brandon Mitchell, assistant professor of dermatology at George Washington University.
Ideally, how often should we shower?
Only when we really need to, according to Shumack. “A sedentary person can get away with a shower once, twice or three times a week, especially in winter. It varies on your skin type and what you are doing.”
If you’re sweaty and dirty, you need a shower, while those with sensitive skins – the elderly and babies – need less showering time.
Mitchell says washing can strip your skin of its natural oils, and may also disrupt the skin’s population of immune system-supporting bacteria.
That’s especially true of antibacterial cleansers, which both he and Larson recommend you ditch.
More reason to skip the antibacterial soaps: Some research has linked triclosan, an ingredient found in many of these products, to potential health risks.
So what’s the ideal shower frequency?
In terms of your health—not how you look or smell—probably once or twice a week, Mitchell says. “Your body is naturally a well-oiled machine,” he says. “A daily shower isn’t necessary.”